Experiencing Numazu: The city that lives and breathes Love Live! Sunshine!! (Part 2)

Navigation
Part 1 (Awashima, escape room game, Uchiura East)
Part 2 (Uchiura West, city center, harbor in detail)
Part 3 (shops, Awashima Hotel, Izu-Mito Sea Paradise, school + resources)


Getting to know the city over two full days: September 2018

Well, it turns out my March visit wasn’t enough for me. I ended up going again. First some background, skip at your leisure:

After March 2018, lots of things happened. On my pre-Numazu trip to Tokyo, I had tentatively looked up how to get into a Love Live concert. I had seen some videos and was intrigued, even though at this point I hardly knew anything about the voice actresses who’d be performing. I saw that Aqours’s 3rd Live Tour was upcoming, there would also be concerts in Osaka so right next to Kyoto, and to apply I should buy specific Blu-ray releases of the Sunshine anime depending on which of the six performances I’d be aiming for. Again, I surprised myself with my dedication by forking over the 7,560 yen (64 EUR/69 USD) for a Blu-ray volume. Another time, I surprised myself by going to an earlier event in Osaka, where I first saw some of the voice actresses. That was the catalyst for me finding out more about them and becoming even more determined to get tickets to a concert.

In the end, after some difficulty, I did get tickets for Osaka Day 2, on 17 June, 2018. As a result of that concert, I got deep into Love Live and Aqours, more by the month I’d even say, and my interest in visiting—or rather, my need to visit Numazu again kept growing. This time, I wanted to have two full days, so I booked a hotel there as well. I had bought “Love Live! Sunshine!! Walker 2,” the second edition of a Numazu travel magazine for Sunshine fans that recommends establishments in the city that have connections to the franchise and/or are good in their own right. (Well, basically, if the voice actresses were somewhere, that’d already be reason enough.) The Walker came with a stamp book and a map for Numazu’s Love Live! Sunshine!! stamp rally, where many of these restaurants, shops and hotels participate. When visiting some place, there’d be a stamp stand with ink and a stamp that you could press onto your booklet, to be looked at later when you reminiscence.

I arrived in Numazu on the evening of 10 September, 2018. I was a bit tired, and it was dark and rainy, so all I did on the first day was check into my hotel, luckily near the station (Numazu Grand Hotel) and then walk the short way back to the station to finally try out the Sun! Sun! Sunshine Cafe. Since it was a bit late (and not around concert dates), there were not many guests aside from me. As a matter of fact, both the hotel and the café participated in the stamp rally. Most everywhere does, which is why I’m not always mentioning it from now on.

As stated before, the café is a makeshift tent-like contraption rather than a solid brick-and-mortar building. It might not have been the optimal place to eat during rain, but then again, the water was kept out perfectly well, it was mostly the sounds (and the ever-so-slight humidity) that reminded you of that.

The café has rotating food/drink and dessert menus. You get these as laminated cards. During this time, there were three: the normal food/drink menu (updated July 2018), the September Sweet Menu, and some Hakodate specials running from August to mid-September. I got a “Little Sisters Leah & Ruby” smoothie-ish drink off the normal sweet menu, and for food, the “Kunikida Household’s Meal” set. With each menu item, you get some collectible bonus, either a cardboard coaster or a “bromide” (standard-sized collectible photo, or in this case illustration, card).

Always nice being there, even if the food isn’t considered to be that special. Just having a menu based off of the franchise is fun, as is being surrounded by the decorations and watching franchise-relevant digest videos and such on the screens.

After eating, it was time to head back to the hotel, plan a bit, and then sleep. I figured that I would spend my first full day mainly in Uchiura and my second full day mainly in the more central parts of Numazu.

The next morning was bright, a more uplifting weather than the night before. Before getting on the bus to Uchiura, I dropped by Nakamise Shopping Arcade.

The main goal was Marusan Bookstore, where I hadn’t been yet. This is Hanamaru’s regular shopping grounds in the anime.

One fun detail was that besides lots of Love Live books, the store also has a shelf of tangentially related books.

On the top row, first are books by Yasushi Inoue. The store’s description label notes that Inoue is an author recommended by Hanamaru in Aqours First Fanbook. The one that’s featured with the cover visible is The Sea in the North (北の海). This particular book, which by the way never saw an English translation so I made that English title up on the spot, carries another connection to Numazu. It is based on Inoue’s own trials trying to get into university after graduating Numazu Middle School (which, at the time, apparently was equivalent to a high school despite the name). The main character, named Kōsaku, lives pre-university admission limbo years in where else but Numazu, the same as Inoue did.

Second on the top row are books by Osamu Dazai, a name already mentioned earlier in this post. The connection here is that Hanamaru was reading Otogi-zōshi (お伽草紙) by Dazai in the beginning of episode 4 of the first season (0:57), and that she tends to buy books on the basis of liking the authors. That particular book was not among those sold at this time, however. The third featured item is a frog encyclopedia, apparently simply similar to something Hanamaru was reading in an illustration from the Love Live! School Idol Festival mobile game.

On the second row, first books by Kazuo Ishiguro, recommended by Hanamaru in Aqours Second Fanbook in June 2017 and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October of the same year. Coincidence? To the right, there’s a book on Angels, one on Fallen Angels (!!) and then a “Dictionary of Demons and Devils,” with the description notes saying that this is something Yoshiko might very well be reading, considering her interests.

Likewise on the second floor but at the other end, there was a nice pop panel display.

(Disclaimer: I went to Marusan on both full days. Some photos from the second day are included here for simplicity, so as to not fragment the Marusan info.)

After Marusan, it was time to take the bus. This time I got one with nice, almost nostalgic, escape room game illustrations.

Also of note is that on the lines to Uchiura, some of the stop announcements are voiced by Aqours’s Chika (voice actress: Anju Inami).

My destination was one of the stamp rally places furthest from central Numazu, the restaurant Umi no Stage (海のステージ). I would eat lunch there and then walk along the coast in the direction of central Numazu, covering spots along the way as long as there were some, before taking the bus back.

Getting to Umi no Stage, I was greeted by Swedish and Norwegian flags for some reason. Entering the restaurant, I asked what this was about and joked about them missing the most important Nordic cross (I’m Finnish). The story is that there was a cruise ship, M/S Stella Polaris, that sailed the world under both the Swedish and the Norwegian flag and, having served well, was sold to Japan and anchored here in Numazu, at Kishō Pier (木負堤防), and reborn as “Floating Hotel Scandinavia.” Umi no Stage was honoring her tradition, and there was a lot of Stella Polaris memorabilia at the restaurant. Since I’d asked, the owner told me about the ship and showed me photos from an album so enthusiastically that I never dared to interrupt. I was the only customer at this time. The owner was a friendly older fellow who apparently liked spending time with customers. At one point, an older lady from the neighborhood stopped by to say hello, and he even briefly introduced me to her.

(For more on Stella Polaris, some Wikipedia language versions have articles: Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, German.)

Of course, there was something related to Love Live, too. The place was featured on the front cover of the first Walker, so not the one I had, and three of the voice actresses (Anju Inami, Rikako Aida and Nanaka Suwa) had visited it for a report therein. I was seated at the table they’d been using back then.

Upon asking, the owner took me to behind the restaurant, where the actual spot featured in the Walker illustration was. Unfortunately, the weather had gotten cloudy enough that Mt. Fuji couldn’t be seen.

After Umi no Stage, it was time for the anime spot tour to begin. I started walking down the coastal street that snaked its way around Nagaisaki, the cape where the model of the Uranohoshi school building is located. There are no real sidewalks, so you have to simply walk on the street. However, there aren’t that many cars running either, so it’s fine… I guess?

The school is up there on the hill in the distance!

At the tip of the cape, I finally reached the first major anime spot: Uranohoshi’s bus stop with its environs.

The bus stop even features as the background of the pom-pom part of the first season’s ending animation.

Right by the bus stop, there’s the embankment where the at-the-time five school idol club members talk about Yoshiko, her persona and how to approach her in episode 5 of the first season.

A view from further back. Fishermen were around, but had gone somewhere for a moment when I took these photos.

Then, of course, there’s the spot closeby where the the road to the school branches off from the coastal street.

I headed up the uphill road to the school.

The start of the road.

It was a weekday, so the school was in use, and it was getting close to break times, so I didn’t venture too close to the school in order not to bother them. Furthermore, as you probably know, in Japan there are strict rules about not photographing pupils or faculty.

This is as close as I went.

In real life, the school is the Nagaisaki Middle School (長い崎中学校), so not a high school. Riko’s voice actress, Rikako Aida, actually visited the school for a talk in 2018, encouraging the pupils to strive for their dreams. You can watch a TV news report on that with English subtitles here.

After the school, I walked down pretty much the length of the cape again, just on the other side this time, to reach the next spot, Bentenjima Shrine (弁天島神社). In episode 9 of the first season, the first and second years follow Kanan on her impressive morning jog, and she finishes it at this little shrine up on a small hill.

The shrine feels almost hidden. I was at first puzzled as to how to get there. The solution really was to go behind the little sheds you see in the above photo. The path picks up from there.

This is a relatively popular location as well, judging by the notice hung to one of the (admittedly less photogenic and not shown in the anime) electricity poles here…

The notice says: “Leaving behind anime goods and drawing on things forbidden.”

After another fair bit of walking the seaside streets, I stopped by OH!MOS, a mikan dealer basically, to get a stamp, try some mikan juice, and amaze the shopkeeper with how far away I’ve come from. This was another experience of the warmth of the locals. If you are an obvious foreigner in Japan, the number of people who want to randomly talk to you isn’t too low in general, but I feel like in Numazu, people were on another level of friendliness and, as oxymoronic as it sounds, I might even say familiarity with strangers.

Leaving the shop and crossing the street to the other side, I climbed up to a hill overlooking Uchiura Bay with the remains of a warring states period castle, Nagahama Castle. This place has been designated as a national historic landmark, with associated info panels and all. You would think that that’s the reason the girls go there in episode 6 to film a promotional video, but looks like they only really use the view.

Getting down and keeping on walking, soon I reached the parts of Uchiura shown the most in the anime (apart from the school), this being the area around Mito Beach and Chika and Riko’s homes.

First was this stone a short distance from the Kurosawa residence. Mari ran past it (or… tried to) when she bolted off from the Kurosawas’ to go talk to Kanan in episode 9.

Mari didn’t give up, pushing on, which gave us this shot.

If you walk in the direction “behind” the camera in these shots, you’ll get to the model for the Kurosawa residence. I went and took a quick look, but didn’t take photos, since apparently the people living there have been rather unhappy with being disturbed.

There was another nearby location that was freely accessible and quite fun to see, though—the Sannoura General Information Office. It’s been fully colonized. There was no staff there when I visited, but some other fans entered as I was leaving.

The office is already pretty close to the western end of the tunnel that marked the end of my Uchiura pilgrimage back in March.

As I mentioned before, this time I found a way to get to the other side without having to go into the tunnel of terror (is there even a sidewalk?!). It’s to the left of the picture, on the other side of the houses. I walked across to the parts that I had visited before already—saw the Izu–Mito Sea Paradise from outside, Chika’s house, Mito Beach, etc… They’re such significant and pretty places that it was nice seeing them again, but instead of taking too many new pictures, I concentrated on gathering some more stamps. I also described this part of the town before, so I’ll skip what wasn’t new to avoid repetition. I actually walked all the way back to the pier where the ferries to Awashima leave from for the last stamp that was in some way “around here.” I then took the bus back to Central Numazu from there.

Of mention is that after getting back and having some dinner (at a Walker-recommended place that wasn’t on the stamp rally), I dropped by the Ishibashi Plaza shopping mall on the north side of Numazu Station. The original plan was to try getting Noppo bread at the big bakery section in the basement, but they had sold out for the day… it was evening, after all. However, even this shopping mall had a collaboration with Sunshine going on.

After grabbing the mall’s stamp, I returned to my hotel. I planned the next day, to be spent in Numazu Harbor and the central areas in general, and watched some TV. I noticed that a satellite channel I had access to now would be airing reruns of the Sunshine anime later in the night. A rather happy coincidence! In reality, I was tired, but I made up my mind to stay up and experience watching Numazu on the small screen, in Numazu.

Me sheepishly increasing the volume and trying not to shout the accompanying calls to the song in the middle of the night.

The episode that night was episode 11 of the first season, a You-centric episode where her relationship with Chika is elaborated. Featuring the flames of jealousy and the song Omoi yo hitotsu ni nare at the climax. It was fun seeing Uchiura locations I’d been to the very same day show up on the screen. I’d been to that bus stop the very same day! I’d been to that 7-Eleven as well! And I knew I would be visiting the water gate the next.

So, the next day after breakfast I went down to Numazu Harbor (沼津港). First things first, I went to the southern tip of the harbor area for the View-O (びゅうお) water gate with an observation deck on the top.

The observation deck is the walkway at the top. Since this is a pretty big structure and Numazu isn’t built too high, you can see around you quite well from there. And the entrance fee is a measly ¥100.

Above, my photo is taken from the opposite direction to that in the anime screenshot, but this time I have a proper excuse. There was a small film crew on the observation deck. They seemed to be filming a low-budget independent production, perhaps, but with rather elaborate costumes. They kindly let me take a photo of the corridor and go on ahead before continuing. If I had taken a photo from the other end of the corridor, they would’ve been in the frame.

The water gate is also where the other girls finally catch up to Yoshiko and convince her to join Aqours in episode 5.

On the way to the water gate, the girls run past scenery such as Numazu Burger, a local burger joint with seafood specialties. I already had my lunch planned, so I didn’t go there this time.

Rather than a port with passenger traffic, Numazu Harbor is the focal point of the town’s fishing industry. Fresh seafood is the highlight of the area for both locals and visitors. There’s a freely viewable Numazu Fish Market (沼津魚市場) building, so I went inside to take a look. However, most of the action is in the morning, so there wasn’t that much to see.

Next, I headed to the adjacent Numazu Harbor Fresh Catch Building (沼津みなと新鮮館) for lunch. This building houses several independent seafood restaurants and shops selling, well, fish and other seafood in particular. A few of the shops had stamps for the stamp rally. Special mention goes to the tea shop Maruni (マル二茶業), which had their wall decorated with art of Hanamaru, drawn based on official illustrations.

Well, I found a restaurant, had a seafood rice bowl, collected the stamps, tried some of the mikan ice jelly since I found that in a shop, and thus finished covering both the building and the harbor area.

I started to make my way back to the city center. On the way, I spotted a manhole cover that looked like it was sprayed plain white, with the ground around it white as well. I stopped to take a look, wondering if this was one of the Sunshine-themed manhole covers installed thanks to a fan project that I’d been hearing about. I had known about the project since I saw some prototypes that were presented at the AnimeJapan 2018 fair back in March. More recently, I had heard the news that many of the covers had been vandalized and needed to be removed. One was supposed to be in the harbor. When I was looking at the cover, some locals standing close by approached me and confirmed that yes, this was one of those covers. They expressed regret at how I wasn’t able to see it now. Well, wasn’t their fault.

On the way back to Central Numazu, I stopped to take one photo of a scene close to You’s house. There was another house there that I was able to identify.

Once back in the center, I took a look at Tsuji Photo Studio, which didn’t have any connection to the anime itself (yet; it would be featured in the movie) but which had embraced Love Live and become a bit of a gathering point for fans.

I also like how Numazu is embracing Aqours not only through putting Aqours pictures in their windows but also the locals organizing activities around Love Live.

This ad is recruiting members for the “Uranohoshi Concert Band,” a hobbyist band playing Aqours songs. They have YouTube channel, too. (Not to be confused with “Oto de Numazu wo terashitai,” a bigger group encompassing people from anywhere in Japan but doing concerts in Numazu.)

Closeby was the mildly confusingly named Arcade Shopping Street (アーケード名店街). Bonus points for having a note on one side of the street instructing pilgrims to go to the other side for the right angle.

“The photo spot for Arcade Shopping Street is on the other side of the pedestrian crossing☆”

I also went to take another look at the Nakamise shopping arcade. I visited the Marusan Bookstore, purchasing the first volume of the Maru no 4-koma manga and getting a special bookmark. The bookstore has already been covered earlier in the report, but please take a look at Hosaka, a Japanese sweets shop just off the shopping arcade that had a stamp and nice Dia decorations.

After Nakamise, I ventured to the other (north) side of Numazu Station and took a picture from Rikō Street, which I’d neglected the night before (or maybe it had just been too dark).

Next, I scuttled around the north entrance of Numazu Station, which is the location where the second years distribute flyers for their upcoming debut show in episode 3.

Somehow I was too efficient in snapping photos of the north entrance area. Phew. Anyway, can we reflect a moment on the fact that the real movie theater here just happens to be called “Sunshine”? And that in the anime world, they have 5D technology?

Right behind the BiVi mall that the movie theater is part of, there’s Plaza Verde, a convention center. In episode 1 of the second season, when buses switched to fall schedules, the last bus from Uchiura to the city center started leaving earlier, meaning that the members living elsewhere in Numazu wouldn’t have much time for practice after school. As a solution, it was arranged for Aqours to practice at Plaza Verde training spaces. I’m not sure whether those rooms exist in reality, though.

My stamp book that had come with the Walker 2 travel guide had a center spread with spaces for two bigger stamps, shaped like large rectangles instead of the usual circles. One was at the Marusan Bookstore, and I had gotten it earlier. The other was at “The Blue Water,” a riverside café the guide’s cover illustration was based off of. I definitely wanted to visit to complete the center spread. It was afternoon, so I opted to go for some desserts there rather than dinner.

The café was a rather nice spot, it would certainly be nice to just sit there for a long time too, looking at the scenery.

This pretty much finished my agenda for the two-day Numazu visit. Right before leaving for Tokyo, where I was going next for the last few days of my year in Japan, I wound up going to the very conveniently located Sun! Sun! Sunshine Cafe for dinner, again. I wanted to try more of the menu… and maybe get more bromides and coasters, who knows. This time I managed to get a Hanamaru desk. I ordered “Riko-chan’s hot egg cheese sandwich” and the “Saint Aqours Snow ~Awaken the power~” frappé off the special Hakodate menu.

After eating, I boarded the train to Tokyo, leaving Numazu behind for what I thought would be a long while. Again. In any case, I felt significantly better acquaintated with the city and its residents now than I had been after the hasty March visit.

Continue to Part 3, “A return, and filling the gaps: June 2019”

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